We get one chance to do it right
"You only live once," a friend who smoked and drank to excess since his teens would respond when I'd chide him about his body abuse.
Right. So since we get only one shot at life as we know it, shouldn't we try to make it last?
Today, as this friend lies terminally ill, far beyond medical repair, he has regrets.
But it's too late. His 62-year-old body has given up.
His sad situation reminds me of another friend who died at 50, the victim of lung cancer.
As my cancer-stricken friend lay dying, he said to me, "I should have quit smoking 30 years ago. No, I never should have started in the first place."
As some of my Pennsylvania Dutch relatives like to say, "We get too late smart."
Indeed. We simply cannot wait until we're on our deathbeds before we start thinking of our health.
Although genes can influence our medical outcomes, we can do much to counterbalance the inherited odds.
Good nutrition and physical fitness are two factors we ourselves control. Stress reduction is another.
All play important roles in our well-being, both of body and mind.
Unfortunately, some folks believe they can put all kinds of junk into their bodies and deprive them of vital nutrients and then visit the doctor for a magic pill to fix the damage.
One friend told me she doesn't worry about her high cholesterol or high blood pressure caused, at least in part, by her diet and lack of exercise. She doesn't intend to change.
"The doctor can give me pills for that," she maintains.
But why take medications, all of which come with side effects, according to my doctor, when we can prevent health problems in the first place?
People who are constantly stressed for whatever reasons and do little to relieve the chronic tensions in their lives often fall into unhealthy habits.
They scrimp on sleep, overeat or make poor food choices, smoke, drink too much alcohol, abuse drugs and neglect physical exercise.
Regular exercise can reduce stress levels. So can calming relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and prayer.
When we lower stress levels in our bodies, we also lower our blood pressure, heart rate and inflammation, according to health studies.
Depriving our bodies of sleep can impair functions such as judgment, attention, decision-making, reaction time and creative thinking. Insufficient sleep can also lead to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, according to physicians.
Whether lack of sleep is the result of stress or just trying to cram too much activity into each day, we ultimately control our sleeping habits.
According to medical professionals, most adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night to maintain good health.
This is sometimes difficult to achieve for people like me who try to do "just one more thing" before bedtime, but getting adequate rest is not impossible. We just need self- discipline.
Getting regular health checkups is also important in helping us live longer, better-quality lives.
We need a physician who conducts basic screenings for cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, blood pressure, skin cancer, blood in the stool, thyroid function, Pap tests and mammograms for women and prostate exams for men.
The doctor may recommend other tests, depending on our health and family history.
Many of us tend to ignore doctors until we have major problems. But like other life choices we make that impact our health, we have to be the ones assuming primary responsibility for the quality of our medical care.
We need to be pro-active about our health and visit a doctor regularly, before we need the hospital emergency room.
If we only live once, as my dying friend liked to point out, we better do it right. That way, once will be enough.